The crisis of rising sea levels Water’s Edge: a Reuters series

In metro Houston, an uphill fight to build a Texas-size defense against the next big storm

Part 3: Hurricane Ike sent a clear message that the people and vital energy industry of one of America’s largest urban areas needed protection from rising seas. Six years later, the only plan with any traction is a professor’s Dutch-inspired idea – and it has scant political backing.

ReutersRising seas are eating away as much as 11 feet of shore a year along the unprotected western end of Galveston Island, where rock revetments are the only thing preventing the waves from swallowing some homes along the shore. REUTERS/Rick Wilking

GALVESTON, Texas – When Hurricane Ike hit this city on the Gulf of Mexico, William Merrell found himself trapped in a second-floor apartment as storm waters coursed eight feet deep through the floor below. “I had time to think,” said the professor and chair of marine sciences at Texas A&M University Galveston.

One thing he thought about was the Dutch Delta Works, a vast coastal protection system he had seen several years earlier on a trip to the Netherlands.

That led to his big idea: build a 60-mile-long, 17-foot-tall dike that would guard against the next hurricane that hits the long, thin barrier island on which Galveston sits. Like its Dutch inspiration, his idea included massive gates that would swing shut as a storm approached, blocking the 1.7-mile-wide entrance to Galveston Bay. The gate would protect low-lying parts of metro Houston, home to hundreds of thousands of people and an oil and petrochemicals complex essential to the U.S. economy.

Ike hammered Galveston and its 57,000 inhabitants, funneling a surge of water around an existing seawall and into the bay. Eighty percent of Galveston’s homes were damaged or destroyed, including Merrell’s apartment building. The hurricane killed 112 people in the U.S., including 36 in the Houston-Galveston area alone, and caused nearly $30 billion in damage.

The toll left little doubt that something was needed to defend residents and the U.S. economy against the next big storm.

Continue reading the Nov. 24, 2014 article by  Duff WilsonRyan McNeill and Deborah J. Nelson here.


CFAX: Interview with Deborah Harford, ACT’s Executive Director, on the Columbia River Treaty

CRTDeborah Harford, executive director of ACT, discusses the upcoming opportunity to renegotiate the Columbia River Treaty in 2024 — one of the largest international trans-boundary water treaties in the world — coupled with a changing climate.

Listen here: 20141125 CFAX interview ACT treaty.




CLIMATE CENTRAL: 2014 Set for Record Hot; Record Cold Thing of the Past

A surge of Arctic air has left much of the continental U.S. shivering in unusually bitter November cold. But this early foray into winter weather is just a small blip in the overall global picture, which is of a warming world that is still on track to see 2014 set the mark for hottest year on record, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday.

That warming — fueled largely by the manmade rise of greenhouse gases in Earth’s atmosphere — is so relentless, in fact, that the odds of seeing a record coldest year in the future are vanishingly small. As the animation below shows, the last time the world experienced a record-coldest year was in 1909, more than 100 years ago. But in that period, 18 records for warmest year have been set, with 2014 likely to be the 19th.

Much of the central and eastern parts of the contiguous U.S. have been relatively cool all year, with a few states even possibly set to see a top 10 coldest year. But the year as a whole has actually been close to average for the country, and California is set to see its warmest year on record by a large margin.

Much of the central and eastern parts of the contiguous U.S. have been relatively cool all year, with a few states even possibly set to see a top 10 coldest year. But the year as a whole has actually been close to average for the country, and California is set to see its warmest year on record by a large margin.

The bigger picture is markedly different. The globe is bathed in warm spots, with the small cold spot centered over the Great Lakes area being just one of a handful of blue spots on the world map.

August, September and October of 2014 have all been the warmest such months on record, as shown by data from NASA, the Japan Meteorological Agency and NOAA, which released its October global numbers Thursday.

This single-year snapshot of the planet’s warmth fits with the pattern of ever-warmer temperatures that has been in place over the past century, particularly since the early 1980s as the warming fueled by an accumulation of greenhouse gases clearly emerged. The animation shows just how much warmth has dominated the temperature records since they began in 1880.

Record cold years are plentiful in the early decades, but they stop in 1909. From there, it’s a  steady march upward, with the expected year-to-year ups and downs that come from natural variation. Warm records are set through the 1930s and 40s, with a long stretch of no records until the 1980s, when the global warming signal firmly emerges from the noise of natural variation.

After that, a string of record hot years follows. And though many of the years in between weren’t records, they still ranked among the warmest. In fact, all but one of the 10 warmest years on record have occurred in the 21st century (1998, when there was a very strong El Niño, is the exception).

NOAA“The globe continues to warm just as climate models have long-predicted,” climate scientist Michael Mann, of Penn State, said in an email.

The steady uptick in warming, even with a relative slowdown in recent decades, means that the likelihood of seeing a record cold year in the future is, according to a quick calculation by Mann, “astronomically small.”

The final year in the animation, 2014, is of course not yet over. But with the October numbers now in, the year-to-date is the warmest on record, measuring 1.22°F above the 20th century average of 57.4°F, according to NOAA data. The chances of 2014 becoming the warmest year are now quite high. Even if November and December only rank in the top 10 warmest, which is likely, 2014 will take the title of warmest year.

“It’s becoming pretty clear that 2014 will end up as the warmest year on record,” Deke Arndt, chief of climate monitoring for NOAA’s National Climatic Data Center, said during a press conference.

And as the animation shows, it’s a long-term trend that is likely to continue until the emissions of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases are significantly curtailed.

Mann said of the possible record, “hopefully it will also drive home the urgency of reducing carbon emissions if we are to avoid dangerous interference with our climate.”

Editor’s note: Two years that tied records were not represented in the animation: 1911 tied 1909 for coldest year and 1930 tied 1926 for warmest at that time.


This article was published by CLIMATE CENTRAL on November 20th, 2014 and authored by .


ACT Releases First Book – The Columbia River Treaty: A Primer

ACT is proud and delighted to announce the release of its first book – The Columbia River Treaty, A Primer, published by Rocky Mountain Books – a vital work that clearly explains the nature of this complex water agreement between Canada and the United States and how its impending update will impact communities, landscapes, industry and water supplies between the two countries for many years to come.

In a changing climate, the Treaty parties must consider and evaluate concerns that had not yet emerged as issues when it was ratified in 1964, creating the largest hydropower project in North America, with additional emphasis on flood protection for the USA. As the Treaty approaches its 60th anniversary, and the first opportunity for modification, its signatories are preparing proposals for new ways forward, and stakeholders on both sides of the border are speaking up.

This primer explores the initial intent of the Treaty and its success to date, its costs to Columbia Basin residents and ecosystems, and new influences the signatories must now consider. Shifts in social norms related to the environment, equity and social justice, new views on the relevance of Indigenous traditional and local knowledge, and the economic and physical effects of a changing climate—are all considered as factors in future Treaty governance. The primer concludes with a summary of the perspectives that currently exist between and within each country with respect to Treaty benefits and outlines the next steps that will take place in the negotiation process.

The authors conclude with a call to action, in the hope that a renewed Columbia River Treaty might prove a model for outstanding transboundary water agreements around the world as they strive to meet not only the challenges of the present day but also the needs of future generations.


CBC TV: Weather Gone Wild

IceIt’s not your imagination. The weather has changed, is changing, and will continue to change. More torrential rain, more intense heat, more ice storms, more drought.  It’s the new normal, and we all need to immediately start adapting if we want to protect our homes and families from the destructive effects of the wild weather that is now a part of our lives.

WEATHER GONE WILD explores recent extreme weather events and the scientific projections of what we can expect over the next few decades:  wild weather is going to become more common, and even wilder and more destructive. What we can we do to protect ourselves, our families, and the towns and cities where we live?

By the year 2050, just 35 years from now, Canada can expect:

• Double the number of extremely heavy precipitation events – with periods of drought in between.
• 5 times as many hot days over 30 degrees.
• 100% increase in wildfires.
• 50% less snowfall across the prairies.
• More hail and 50% more ice storms.
• More intense hurricanes.

As a result, the new global buzzword is “adaptation”, as cities and citizens scramble to protect themselves. What can we do to give ourselves the best chance of dodging this coming bullet? WEATHER GONE WILD travels to Calgary, Toronto, New York, Miami and Rotterdam to detail the dangers of the destructive new weather patterns, and show the innovative plans in each city to protect people and property from the weather’s devastating effects.

In Canada, everything from farming, to the insurance industry, to building codes will have to change if we’re going to weather the coming storms.  Most Canadian cities are particularly vulnerable because their aging sewer, drain, and electrical systems need to be massively upgraded to ensure a safe future.

As Blair Feltmate, University of Waterloo professor and Chair of Canada’s Climate Change Adaptation Project says, “It’s mission critical for the country.  We have to weather-harden the system. Climate change will continue to happen.  We need to figure out, what are we going to do about it?”

WEATHER GONE WILD answers that question with a number of practical steps Canadians can take to prepare themselves for destructive weather.  Even conservative estimates show that for every dollar spent now on weather adaptation, six will be saved when damaging storms do strike.

Coming soon, we’ll have a timeline of significant weather events in Canadian history and free web app that provides practical and useful step-by-step information for Canadian homeowners on how to safeguard our homes and our families.

WEATHER GONE WILD is directed by Melanie Wood, written by Helen Slinger and Melanie Wood, and produced by Sue Ridout for Dreamfilm Productions in association with CBC-TV.

Click here to watch.


Columbia treaty must consider climate change: OpEd in Times Colonist by Jon O’Riordan, ACT senior policy adviser

Columbia River BasinThe opportunity for renegotiation of the Columbia River Treaty in 2024 — one of the largest international trans-boundary water treaties in the world — coupled with the prospect of a changing climate, requires Canada to consider the costs and benefits of climate-change adaptation in its forthcoming discussions with the U.S.

Flood control and power generation were joint cornerstones of the treaty when it was signed in 1964. The current flood-control provision will be modified in 2024 unless the parties agree to renegotiate. As well, the U.S. returns to B.C. an average of $150 million a year in incremental potential power benefits, based on increased regulation of storages in the Canadian Columbia necessary to maintain agreed-upon flows.

Some parties in the U.S. argue that these payments are too high, but because of the changing climate in the basin, they might, in fact, be too low.

A recent summary by the Canadian Meteorological and Oceanographic Society of anticipated climate changes in the region shows that, over the next 50 years, average temperatures are expected to increase (between 1.8 and 2.7 C), as are the frequency and duration of extreme hot spells, especially in the U.S. portion, with implications for water shortages and agricultural losses.

Monitoring of glaciers in the Canadian portion of the basin indicates they are shrinking, which will lead to a short-term increase in annual runoff until they finally disappear, with implications for seasonal-flow timing and availability. Warmer air carries more moisture, so the semi-regular high rainfall events associated with El Nino are likely to become more intense and frequent, increasing the prospect of severe flooding.

First Nations and basin residents on both sides of the border are expressing concerns regarding the health of ecosystems. The Adaptation to Climate Change Team at Simon Fraser University’s school of public policy notes that resilience to climate change is improved by protecting and restoring ecosystem diversity and services.

Well-functioning ecosystems reduce flooding, increase retention of water during droughts and temper heat waves through shading. Thriving ecosystems also store more carbon, reducing emissions that are fuelling climate change.

Both the B.C. and U.S. governments have released statements of interest for renegotiating the treaty, supporting increased protection of ecosystem values and taking into account the implications of a changing climate. These actions have the potential to add value to some of the resources under consideration.

For example, the treaty entities estimate that, due to increased storage capacity in Canadian Columbia reservoirs, downstream U.S. flood-control benefits include about $32 billion in reduced damages over the past 50 years — a service for which the U.S. paid just $64 million under the original agreement. The potential for severe flooding due to changing climate conditions will increase Canada’s valuable role in flood control.

The U.S. government has passed legislation since 1964 to protect migrating salmon in the U.S. portion of the Columbia. Studies sponsored by the SFU team assessing ecosystem values associated with salmon indicate that U.S. residents collectively value the presence of salmon from $330 million to more than $1 billion annually. Under a changing climate, flows from regulated Canadian storages will become increasingly vital to the health of these species and their aquatic ecosystems.

Large areas of the U.S. basin are dependent on Columbia water for irrigation, and might face significantly lower flows during the summer months as climate change advances. Using existing hydrologic models, we can estimate that the cost of maintaining water levels to compensate for this through Canadian storage regulation could top $1 billion under severe drought conditions.

In other words, as the climate changes, water security will become more important than power security throughout the Columbia Basin.

Canada, as the upstream nation, has a responsibility to prioritize these pending changes in hydrology in its approach to the treaty discussions. It should promote the associated increase in commercial and ecological values in Columbia River flows that adaptation to climate and hydrological change will represent to a range of U.S. interests.

Jon O’Riordan is senior policy adviser to SFU’s Adaptation to Climate Change Team and a former B.C. deputy minister of sustainable resource management.


Boards, Skis and Snowshoes: How is climate change impacting winter sports?

Screenshot 2014-10-17 16.30.17

Cool North Shore and Capilano University Earthworks

When: Tuesday, 28 October 2014 from 6:30 PM to 9:00 PM (PDT)

Where: North Vancouver, BC

Register for this free event here.




Report: B.C. Facing Massive Price Spikes for Fruits and Vegetables

Screenshot 2014-10-10 09.19.16A report released today warns prices for a variety of fruits and vegetables in B.C. could increase up to 34 per cent this year due to the drought in California.

According to the report which was commissioned by Vancity, drought has persisted in California over the past three years, with the majority of the state in “extreme” or “exceptional” drought. With the last 30 months being the driest on record, the state’s dependence on moving water is making it and British Columbians vulnerable to price spikes for fruits and vegetables.

The report, entitled Wake up Call: California Drought & BC’s Food Security, indicates:

– In 2010, 67% of BC vegetable imports came from the U.S., over half of which was produced in California, including 95% of all broccoli and 74% of all lettuce. — Between 1996 and 2011 in B.C., local crop production has decreased by 52% in the case of broccoli and 34% in the case of lettuce. — Since 1991, local crop production in B.C. has dramatically decreased, including vegetable crops, which have fallen by 20.4 per cent. — Between July 2013 and 2014, produce prices in B.C. have increased between 5.7% and 9.6%. — If current trends continue, prices for many fruit and vegetables are predicted to increase by 25%-50% by 2019, adding an extra $30-$60 to the average B.C. household’s monthly grocery bill. — Paying $7 for a pound of broccoli could be a reality in five years. — When comparing current production to recommendations for dietary consumption outlined in Canada’s Food Guide to Healthy Eating, B.C.’s food self reliance drops to 34%.

Continue reading here.


Understanding Climate Change: Science, Policy and Practice

Screenshot 2014-10-02 08.09.07Are you looking for compelling and accessible resources about climate change? We’ve recently published a book called Understanding Climate Change: Science, Policy and Practice (2014, University of Toronto Press).  In it, we present climate change as both a scientific and a public policy issue, exploring the connections between climate change and major social concerns, such as human health, poverty, and other environmental problems.  We walk you through the key elements of the climate system so that you can become a more confident communicator, and we highlight well-established facts as well as sources of controversy.  The book complements and expands on topics discussed in the Climate Literacy course.

We hope you, your friends, family, and colleagues find the book helpful to continue your conversations about climate change.


Here are a few of the reviews:

“Bridging social and natural science, Understanding Climate Change is a very accessible and well developed explanation of climate change.  Students without scientific backgrounds will find the approach refreshing and appealing, yet those with natural science training will still find it engaging and interesting.”  -Len Broberg, Director, Environmental Students Program, University of Montana.

“Written in an accessible style that will engage the reader, Understanding Climate Change is a well-balanced, comprehensive review of climate science and politics.  The field has been crying out for such a resource.” -Aled Jones, Director, Global Sustainability Institute, Anglia Ruskin University

Understanding Climate Change is a well-written text, with strong and substantive content.  Undergraduates will find its analogies and metaphors catchy and effective for learning and retention.” -Max Boykoff, Center for Science and Technology Policy Research, University of Colorado-Boulder

The book is available in paperback, hardcover, or as an e-book at the U of T Press site, Amazon (links below), and other booksellers.

Sarah Burch and Sara Harris

University of Toronto Press site:


The genesis of climate change activism: from key beliefs to political action

Screenshot 2014-10-02 07.43.19Abstract

Climate change activism has been uncommon in the U.S., but a growing national movement is pressing for a political response. To assess the cognitive and affective precursors of climate activism, we hypothesize and test a two-stage information-processing model based on social cognitive theory. In stage 1, expectations about climate change outcomes and perceived collective efficacy to mitigate the threat are hypothesized to influence affective issue involvement and support for societal mitigation action. In stage 2, beliefs about the effectiveness of political activism, perceived barriers to activist behaviors and opinion leadership are hypothesized to influence intended and actual activism. To test these hypotheses, we fit a structural equation model using nationally representative data. The model explains 52 percent of the variance in a latent variable representing three forms of climate change activism: contacting elected representatives; supporting organizations working on the issue; and attending climate change rallies or meetings. The results suggest that efforts to increase citizen activism should promote specific beliefs about climate change, build perceptions that political activism can be effective, and encourage interpersonal communication on the issue (emphasis added).

Download the PDF here.



The New Climate Economy: Better Growth Better Climate

Better Growth Better ClimateA new pathway for economic policy.

Countries at all income levels have the opportunity to build lasting economic growth and at the same time reduce the immense risk of climate change. But action is needed now.



The GLOBAL COMMISSION, advised by some of the WORLD’S LEADING ECONOMISTS, sets out a ten point GLOBAL ACTION PLAN for governments and businesses to secure better growth in a low-carbon economy.

Watch an introductory video, read the executive summary, chapters, and/or the full report here.


ACT ED Spoke at Rising Seas Summit

Screenshot 2014-07-11 15.33.12ACT’s ED Deborah Harford presented at the Rising Seas Summit today. The inaugural Rising Seas Summit is bringing more than 170 professionals from national and local government, industry, academic institutions and environmental NGOs together to highlight the interrelationships between sea level rise, climate change and extreme events. Understanding, anticipating and adapting to water related threats is critical to national security and a stable economy. Sea level rise will continue to damage coastal ecosystems and inland water systems, and the recent catastrophic impacts of Hurricane Sandy have demonstrated the risks faced by all coastal communities on the U.S. eastern seaboard. These new environmental challenges require that stakeholders share knowledge and work together to reduce and mitigate environmental and social degradation induced by climate change.

For more information or to register check out the website.


50 Canadian climate researchers speak out in support of the People’s Climate March

Canada is failing to meet its carbon pollution reduction targets, and its climate researchers are calling for a change.
UK urged to support tar sands banAn open cast mine near Fort McMurray, Alberta, Canada, used to extract oil from the Athabasca tar sands fields, which are preventing Canada from reducing its carbon pollution. Photograph: Emily Beament/PA

The Canadian government is hell-bent on exploiting the Alberta tar sands to the fullest extent possible, even at the expense of the global climate. Canada simply cannot meet its carbon pollution reduction pledges if it continues to expand tar sands operations.

While the American government has finally begun to take the threat of climate change seriously and do something about it, the Canadian government has merely played lip service to the problem. 50 Canadian climate researchers have reached the point where they feel the need to speak out, using the People’s Climate March on September 21st as a catalyst to call for action. To that end, they penned the following letter.

Continue reading here.




Figure: The user interface of the Gridded Hydrologic Model Output Portal Page.

In 2012, PCIC launched its Data Portal with the BC Station Data Page, which makes observations from more than 6000 stations available to the public. In the two years since, PCIC expanded our Data Portal, with a High-Resolution PRISM Climatology Page and a Statistically Downscaled Climate Scenarios Page. Now we are expanding our Data Portal again, with our new Gridded Hydrologic Model Output Page, which provides access to gridded, high-resolution projections of hydrologic simulation data for four watersheds in British Columbia, generated at PCIC using the VIC hydrological model.

Learn more about the Gridded Hydrological Model Output Page.Users can sign in to the portal using OpenID(link is external) and access the snow water equivalent, soil moisture, surface runoff (runoff), subsurface runoff (baseflow), and actual evapotranspiration data for a region covering the Peace, upper Columbia, Fraser and Campbell River watersheds, in three different formats, using an intuitive, map-based web interface.



Naomi Klein says this changes everything: CBC Feature

Naomi Klein -CBC Feature

Photo by Ed Kashi


An existential crisis for the human species, a clear and present danger to civilization, a death sentence for the planet, a weapon of mass destruction: these are just some of the phrases you will find in Naomi Klein‘s new book,This Changes Everything. The book is a wake-up call about the state of the environment.

Ms. Klein argues that nothing else matters – war, pestilence, disease, economic collapse – if we don’t have clean air to breathe and water to drink. But we seem to be sleep-walking en masse towards a point of no return.

Naomi Klein is a bestselling author. No Logo – about how we have become slaves to globalization and brand culture – was translated into more than 25 languages and sold more than a million copies. The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism also became an international bestseller. This Changes Everything is a finalist for the Hilary Weston Writers’ Trust Prize for Nonfiction.


Michael spoke with Naomi Klein in our Toronto studio.


Climate Report Details Flood Risk to Sites in Washington

newyork-under-waterWASHINGTON — The nation’s capital is likely to see record flooding by 2050, putting about $7 billion worth of property, three military bases and parts of the National Mall at risk as a result of climate change that is raising sea levels all over the world, according to a report released Tuesday by the research group Climate Central.

That is one of the group’s more conservative estimates in a report titled “Washington, D.C., and the Surging Sea.”

In the worst case, the group draws an end-of-the-century picture of the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials as islands in a flooded Potomac River, and Fort McNair, the Washington Navy Yard and parts of Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling completely under water.

Scientists’ warnings about the effects of climate change are not new, with predictions that melting polar ice will lead to a rise in sea levels that will lap around the edges of New York, turn Houston into a latter-day Venice and force millions of residents in low-lying nations like Bangladesh out of their homes.

Read the full New York Times article here.

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